2014 Starting Pitchers

Review of the field positions was relatively easy compared to the uncertainty of the pitching staff. In the last few years of 90-plus losses, the starting pitching has been a primary problem. While moves this off-season have improved the prospects for better results on the mound this year, there is still plenty of room for concern.

Three key acquisitions through free agency are, at this point anyway, what gives some reason for optimism. One hopes the starters will be consistent enough not to completely wear out the bullpen as was the case the past couple of years. Ricky Nolasco is probably the number one starter going into spring and Phil Hughes is my number two. Both should be capable of putting up innings and keeping the team in the ballgame regularly. The third free agent signing was actually a re-signing of Mike Pelfrey, who was with the Twins last year. I list him as my number three starter over Kevin Correia because Pelfrey had a decent year last year in spite of coming off TJ surgery the year before. One more year out and he should be better yet this year.

Number four is Kevin Correia, who surprised many of us fans last year and pitched fairly well, at least in the context of the other starters. He is not overpowering but last year was pretty consistent at getting to the sixth inning or later with the game still winnable. If he does that again in the fourth starter slot, he will be a solid member of the rotation. He is in the second year of a two year contract this year, so if he falters, he is unlikely to be on the roster after June.

Several pitchers will be vying for the fifth starter slot including some who have had some success in the Twins’ rotation in the past. When he has been healthy and not completely wild, Sam Deduno has been very good. In the rotation last year, he was arguably the best of the bunch. Because he had surgery over the winter, he may not be ready to really compete the first day of spring. In fact, he may not enough time to get fully ready for opening day. If he is healthy, he will need to be on the active roster to avoid losing him since he has no more options.

Scott Diamond is another contender who is coming off a down year after being quite effective in 2012. If he is able to bounce back this year, he would be the only left-hander in the rotation (assuming the first four remain as I’ve predicted above). Diamond is another player without options, so his chances of making the roster as a starter or reliever are slightly better than someone who has options.

Although his major league debut last year was anything but stellar, Kyle Gibson is still considered a major prospect with number one or two starter potential. If he is healthy and does well this spring, he may break camp as the fifth starter, but I expect him to begin again in Rochester and establish himself before being called up when another pitcher falters or is injured.

Vance Worley probably needs to at least be mentioned as a possible number five, but he is a long shot at this point. He might end up in the bullpen if the Twins want to keep him, but my guess is he will not make the team and will be subjected to the waiver process because he is out of options.

Logan Darnell and Trevor May are the two other starters on the 40-man who are not on the active roster. Though they have a slim chance of being the fifth starter, I expect them to be at Rochester or New Britain when the season opens.

Alex Meyer, the Twins’ top pitching prospect, is being talked about as being close to ready after a good showing in the Arizona Fall League, but he would be making the jump from AA to the majors if he found himself in the rotation. I hope and expect he’ll get the opportunity to prove himself at AAA Rochester first. Maybe by mid-season depending on other circumstances, he will get the call up.

If I had to pick the rotation now, the first four are set and Scott Diamond would be my pick for number five with Deduno opening on the DL and Worley either released or stashed in the bullpen. Much can happen in the next couple of months, so I do not necessarily expect this prediction to hold.

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Another Lost Season

With now less than a week before September is upon us, it is time to consider some options for September call-ups. A third lost season in a row leads one to be thinking more about the future than how the Twins will do the rest of the way this season. As a result, the September call-ups this year are more likely to see some extended playing time than simply being an extra bat on the bench or arm in the bullpen.

Starting pitching has been the most significant weakness this season for the Twins and right now there are some iffy members of the rotation to even complete this season.  Apparently the Twins are monitoring Mike Pelfrey’s innings count as he is in his first year back from surgery. I find that a bit odd in that he will become a free agent at the end of the season. As a result, the Twins’ caution with him may turn out to aid some other team.  Also, Samuel Deduno has had some arm issues that may end up limiting his starts the rest of the way.

Kyle Gibson pitched today for AAA Rochester and is scheduled for one more regular season start for them.  If the Red Wings make the playoffs – currently leading for the wild card slot – Gibson might get a start in the postseason, but with his innings limit, he may also be shut down the best of what New Britain has to offer called up for the playoffs to replace him in the rotation.

Liam Hendriks had another dismal outing and simply does not look like a viable option for next year’s rotation, although given the Twins’ propensity for second chances, he will probably be given another chance to earn a spot next spring. It is unlikely that he will be sent down now unless he is deemed useful in a Rochester play-off run.

As best I can tell, Scott Diamond is close to pitching his way back into the good graces of the major league team, but it also would make some good sense to keep him with Rochester in the event of their wild card or division championship. There is something to be said for playoff experience and “learning how to win”.

Two pitchers currently on the New Britain Rock Cats who have major league experience might be options for recall. They are Cole De Vries and Pedro Hernandez. Either might also be selected for Rochester if Gibson is shut down for the playoffs. Neither one has been stellar this season. Both have been injured and somewhat limited as a result. For the 2014 rotation, it would surprise me if either one is considered a front runner for the Twins. A highly touted prospect, Alex Meyer, may have a chance to crack the 2014 rotation, but I see him as unlikely for September, maybe more likely for the Arizona Fall League.

In the bullpen, Michael Tomkin is a very probable September call-up candidate, but only after Rochester is finished playing. He could gain some valuable experience as closer if they make the playoffs.

My best guess right now is the following will be part of the September rotation to evaluate their potential roles for 2014.  Kevin Correia is the only current starter with a two year contract, so he will stay. Andrew Albers has earned an extended look. If he remains healthy, Samuel Deduno has done well enough at times to deserve a longer look. As soon as Rochester is done, Scott Diamond will get his chance to redeem himself and return to a 2014 rotation option. That would leave Pelfrey and Hendriks as the next in line, maybe even going to a six-man rotation.

In the position player ranks, I’m guessing Eduardo Escobar, Darin Mastroianni are very probable with Chris Parmelee a long shot. If in the next few days Justin Morneau ends up being traded, his chances improve some. Aaron Hicks might get the call, but he has struggled so much both with injuries and in effectiveness since he was sent down, that I expect he will have to wait until spring to see if he can make the opening day roster again. Although it is very unlikely, I’d like to see Deibinson Romero called up and given full time at third base. In my opinion, Trevor Plouffe has been given enough time and has not produced consistently enough to count on him.

All in all, that is not a very exciting lineup of players for us to get excited about in September and for the future. We’ll have to hope for an active off-season for the Twins to bolster their chances to compete next year.

Post-Winter Meeting Thoughts

With the winter meetings now history, this is as good a time as any to put together some thoughts about how much progress has been made so far this off-season. I’ve been more than a little lethargic the last couple of months when it comes to thinking about the Twins. It has been difficult to get too excited because the roster has so many needs of upgrades and my confidence in their willingness to address enough of them to field a competitive team in 2013 has so far been low.

Activity at the winter meetings has changed that. Realistic or not, the moves made by Terry Ryan this past week have been exciting enough to recharge the enthusiasm at least a little bit. Trading Denard Span was not unexpected, but I must admit I was a little disappointed in the return – prospect Alex Meyer – not because he is not a very good prospect, but because I was hoping for the first move by Ryan to be a signal that he was putting together a respectable starting rotation for 2013 and not just beyond. Trading Ben Revere did come as a surprise because I have been speculating that he would be the starting center fielder for the Twins for a year or possibly more while we waited for Aaron Hicks to be ready. The more I think about and and review what was received in return, the more I really like the move. One slot in the rotation is now filled with the acquisition of Vance Worley. Another excellent pitching prospect, who will likely start the season at Rochester, in Trevor May, sweetens the deal if he progresses as hoped for. And finally, the Rule 5 selection of Ryan Pressly may prove to be a good choice if he makes the 25-man roster upgrading one slot in the bullpen.

There was only one dark spot in the Rule 5 process and that was the loss of recently acquired pitcher, Tom Boleska, in the AAA Rule 5 draft. It remains to be seen just how large a loss that will be, but the fact that he was a free agent when he was signed November 20, means he was not highly valued by his previous franchise.

It is clear the Twins are not finished yet with off-season moves. Rumors have Justin Morneau as the next possible trade bait and that may well happen if Ryan can secure more major league ready starting pitching in the process. With some offers out to free agent starting pitchers, according to Twin Cities media reports, one or more starters may be acquired that way. It will certainly be interesting to see how that all turns out in the next few weeks.

Even as early as it is in the off-season, I am going to go out on a limb and project Darin Mastroianni as the opening day center fielder. I was impressed with him this past season and think he will be a very good fourth outfielder eventually, but an adequate fill-in until Hicks is ready – most likely mid-season 2013. Mastroianni is very similar to Revere in many respects, but with a better arm. If Revere was going to be an adequate outfielder for the short term, Mastroianni will be also. I’m expecting him to win the battle for opening day starter over Joe Benson and Aaron Hicks, although if Benson has a hot spring, he may make the opening day roster at least as the fourth outfielder. Hicks needs to play every day so will almost certainly start the season in Rochester.

I’m going to wait a little while before posting too many projections for 2013, but at least the roster actions of the past week have stirred some interest again.